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Uncle Sam Giveth, Uncle Sam's Administrators Taketh Away

October 20, 2003 - 5:22 p.m.

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Last Five Entries:
The Party's Over
July 11, 2004
The Next Day
My Nervous Breakdown
True Confessions: My Life as a Female Impersonator
March 15, 2004
Bite Me
February 29, 2004



I just had my heart broken today.

The last legal aid office for which I worked received a DOJ grant to fund two attorney positions to exclusively represent domestic violence victims in legal matters. When we got the grant, I volunteered to fill one of those positions. It was a move that was considered insane, by the way, because most legal aid attorneys would rather be doing the bankruptcies, consumer cases, unlawful detainers, and less-contentious issues than doing family law full time. And that's precisely why I did it- because I guessed that no sane attorney would take the position, and it would end up being filled by a well-meaning but inexperienced fresh law school graduate who might spend a lot of time learning on the job at the expense of quality representation for domestic violence victims. (Though, I should point out, the attorney who filled the other position initially was pretty darn good.)

I did that work for a year-and-a-half, when I came to that point at which I decided that I didn't want to be a lawyer anymore, and I left to go to graduate school. After that, though, I had a part-time job at a non-profit that was doing a study of the grant program that had funded the domestic violence attorney position I had previously held at legal aid (along with other such programs over the country). I only had that job for a year, though, when some of the non-profit's money dried up, and they laid me off.

I've always believed in the grant program that helped provide lawyers for victims of domestic violence to help with the legal problems they suffer for being beaten by their spouses / co-parents, and I've always felt attached to the program at my former legal aid office because I essentially created the position there and determined how it would serve clients.

I don't talk often with that legal aid office, but today I called because I needed my former boss's expertise on a legal question I encountered today. He wasn't in, but before I left him a message, I had a chat with one of the paralegals with whom I had worked.

She told me that their office had lost the funding for the domestic violence position. The explanation from the office that administers the grant program is that they have the same pool of money but more grant applicants. Instead of continuing to fund current grantees, they decided to stop funding current grantees and fund new programs.

This is the stupiest thing I've ever heard in my life. Besides the fact that family law is one of the most draining areas of practice, another reason that experienced, competent attorneys won't apply for positions like the domestic violence position is that there is no job security- the job can't be guaranteed for longer than the duration of the grant. By pulling the rug out from the initial grantees, DOJ has taken yet other step to make sure that public service jobs are even more unattractive to qualified applicants. As if making one-third of what private practice attorneys make isn't enough.

I also spent a lot of time merely setting up the old position before I could actually start representing a lot of clients. That kind of start-up takes time and money. Instead of allowing the initial programs reap the benefits of that start-up, those programs are torn down and new programs get to devote an inordinate amount of time and money to start-up. The government's money is being used more for infrastructure and administrative costs rather than actual representation of domestic violence clients.

And now there are a lot of domestic violence victims engaged in custody and divorce litigation that can take years, who find themselves suddenly without a lawyer.

It's hard enough to get Congress to even look at a serious problem like domestic violence. It's just frustrating to know that the taxpayer money they set aside to help is being mis-managed into nothing. The office admininstering the program places a higher priority on bean-counting than on actually helping domestic violence victims. (I'm familiar enough with that office to be confident in that characterization.)

It's a shame, because I happen to know that my former legal aid office made a real impact on the problem of domestic violence in its area. I know because I was the one in court all the time, winning cases all the time, and I know because the dometic violence advocates, judges, and other attorneys in the area told me.

And I suppose for those attorneys who have been working under the grant for domestic violence victims, it's yet another confirmation that they should not have sacrificed their own financial security to try to actually help anyone.

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